The Lost Century
[If you want to start at Chapter 1, it's here along with my explanation of what I'm doing and why.]
In the 1950s I was a tween who devoured SF novels as voraciously as I devoured candy and crawfish bisque. There were only a couple of SF authors from the 50s, and 40s and 30s, whom I didn't especially enjoy reading. I liked most of them, I loved many of them, and I adored a few of them. Andre Norton was one of the brightest stars in my literary universe.
In 1953, she (Yes, she. Andre Norton was the nom de plume of Alice Mary Norton.) published a novel called Star Rangers. She was one of those SF authors I adored and when I got this novel from the library I expected to inhale it as I had all of her other works. Unusually for me, however, I only read a couple of pages and then put it down, uninterested in continuing. I returned it to the library unread.
Some time later, on another library trip, I took this novel home again, and again stalled out after just a couple of pages, and again returned it to the library unread. I remember doing this a couple more times. For some reason at that time, I simply couldn't get into that novel. Until I could.
Finally, there came a time when I took it home and began reading and found myself drawn in. Now, more than fifty years later, I still reread that novel every year or two. It's one of my all-time favorites. What does that have to do with this introduction to my novel? Well…
Ms. Norton opened Star Rangers with a prologue which tells the story of a Roman Emperor who commanded a legion to march East to find the Eastern edge of Asia, simply because he had the power to do so. She then imagined that legion's fall to a barbarian horde on an unknown battlefield, somewhere in the vastness of Asia. This is the historic parallel to the plight of the crew of the Central Control Patrol ship Starfire in her novel. That legend of the Roman legion intrigued me as much as Ms. Norton's novel itself and I wondered if there was any historical validity to it.
Roman history was a significant component of my prep school curriculum and we learned about the Republic, later Empire, as we read various Latin authors. Caesar's Commentaries were part of the first year of Latin studies and part of Caesar's history is his interaction with Crassus, the richest man in the Republic and calculated by some to have been the richest man ever. For our purposes, however, the significance of Crassus is not his wealth but his military history. Crassus wanted to make a name for himself as a military man in order to compete with Pompey and Caesar, so while Caesar was running around killing people in Western Europe, Crassus decided to head East and conquer the Parthians in what is now approximately Turkey.
In 53 B.C., Crassus lost to the Parthians and was beheaded by them. As a result of that campaign, many legions were lost, both to the Romans as useful troops and to history. The Parthians would typically have sent prisoners and/or slaves to the Eastern realms of their empire. A couple of decades after the campaigns of 54-53 B.C., there are stories in China of a group of Caucasians who fought with what are apparently Roman armor, weapons, and tactics. This story, which is potentially historically factual, is probably the basis of the legend related by Ms. Norton in her prologue to Star Rangers.
In the half-century-plus since the original publication of Star Rangers, it has been reprinted several times and also reissued under an alternate title, The Last Planet. No matter which printing or which title it comes from, it was Andre Norton's mention of this legend which inspired me to write my novel.
Therefore, I dedicate this novel to the memory of Andre (Alice Mary) Norton, and to my nonpareil wife, Ronnie, and my exquisite daughters, MJ and Chloe.
Dum spiro, disco! Dum vivimus, vivamus! Dum, dum, dum, dum!
Frank Maier, Pacific Northwest 2010
Here is Andre Norton's original prologue to Star Rangers:
There is an old legend concerning a Roman Emperor, who, to show his power, singled out the Tribune of a loyal legion and commanded that he march his men across Asia to the end of the world. And so a thousand men vanished into the hinterland of the largest continent, to be swallowed up forever. On some unknown battlefield the last handful of survivors must have formed a square which was overwhelmed by a barbarian charge. And their eagle may have stood lonely and tarnished in a horsehide tent for a generation thereafter. But it may be guessed, by those who know of the pride of these men in their corps and tradition, that they did march East as long as one still remained on his feet.
In 8054 A.D. history repeated itself – as it always does. The First Galactic Empire was breaking up. Dictators, Emperors, Consolidators wrested the rulership of their own or kindred solar systems from Central Control. Space pirates raised flags and recruited fleets to gorge on spoil plundered from this wreckage. It was a time in which only the ruthless could flourish.
Here and there a man, or a group of men, tried valiantly to dam the flood of disaster and disunion. And, notable among these last-ditch fighters who refused to throw aside their belief in the impartial rule of Central Control were the remnants of the Stellar Patrol, a law enforcement body whose authority had existed unchallenged for almost a thousand years. Perhaps it was because there was no longer any security to be found outside their own ranks that these men clung the closer to what seemed in the new age to be an outworn code of ethics and morals. And their studdorn loyalty to a vanished ideal was both exasperating and pitiful to the new rulers.
Jorcam Dester, the last Control Agent of Deneb, who was nursing certain ambitions of his own, solved in the Roman manner the problem of ridding his sector of the Patrol. He summoned the half dozen officers still commanding navigable ships and ordered them – under the seal of the Control – out into space, to locate (as he said) and remap forgotten galactic border systems no one had visited in at least four generations. He offered a vague promise to establish new bases from which the Partol might rise again, invigorated and revived, to fight for the Control ideals. And, faithful to their very ancient trust, they upped-ship on this mission, undermanned, poorly supplied, without real hope, but determined to carry out orders to the last.
One of these ships was the Vegan Scout – Starfire.
Thank you, Ms. Norton, for this story and all the others you wrote which inspired me over the years. And thank you, dear reader, for being here. I hope you enjoy yourself.